Thousands of gay men and lesbians marched Saturday through the streets of Warsaw demanding greater freedoms in the first EuroPride to be held behind the Cold War's Iron Curtain, the AFP reported.

The annual gay pride parade drew more than 50,000 revelers last year in Zurich, Switzerland.

Police estimated the crowd in Warsaw at 8,000, lower than the 20,000 hoped for by organizers. Anti-gay sentiment in the Roman Catholic stronghold remains high and politicians and church leaders routinely speak out against being gay.

As mayor of Warsaw in 2005, Poland's recently deceased former President Lech Kaczynski banned such demonstrations as offensive to public morals.

He continued to clash with gay rights activists as president.

“If that kind of approach to sexual life were to be promoted on a grand scale, the human race would disappear,” Kaczynski said in 2007. “Imagine what grand changes would occur in mores if the traditional links between men and women were set aside.”

The colorful parade, led by the traditional Dykes on Bikes, drew people from around the globe. The parade's soundtrack included hits from the Village People and gay icon Kylie Minogue. People marched holding signs that read “It's OK to be Gay” and “We're Queer, We're Here, Get Over It.”

“We're hoping to open up a debate on the topic of affording legal status to the partnerships of gay and lesbian couples but we're not optimistic such legislation will be passed anytime soon,” Jacek Adler, editor in chief of gay website, told the news organization.

A force of 2,000 police officers, some in riot gear, were dispatched to protect revelers.

Eight counter demonstrators were detained by authorities, some for attacking police officers, others for hurling eggs and bottles at paradegoers.

Rome will play host to EuroPride 2011.